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This November I find myself in Seoul for the Bio-Art Seoul 2015 Conference. It’s great to be back here in Korea, which is turning into a yearly homecoming of a sort. Annyunghaseyo!

For my bit in the show, I presented the second volume of The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store. There were eight new scents I debuted here. The line was called “A Walk Home” and it was based on the scents of my childhood in the Philippines. These olfactory memories were especially potent when I moved to Manila last year after ten years of being away.

 

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store Volume 2: A Walk Home

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store Volume 2: A Walk Home

The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store: A Walk Home has these eight scents: Recess, A Chinese Apothecary, Time with My Mom, Swimming Lessons, Wild Grass, Manila Sunsets, Carnival, and Moments of Solitude.

Oh you kids. <3

Oh you kids. ❤

During the exhibition, it was fun to see families smell the perfumes. My favorite part was when I saw the little kids trying them on, especially the really small ones who had to tiptoe to reach the bottles. It was so cute when one group of little boys gathered around, each taking a bottle, and sprayed it on himself. (I pity the ones who got the perfumes marked “Recess” and “A Chinese Apothecary”.)

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Some of my favorite target audience.

 

Sometimes, reactions to my work are polarized. LIke so. (I hope the kid on the right is ok.)

Sometimes, reactions to my work are polarized. LIke so. (I hope the kid on the right is ok.)

And now, a cathartic release by writing about an embarrassing moment. It was the exhibition opening, and man, I was so excited to do my first Korean ribbon cutting—complete with the white gloves and golden scissors, yo! I was nervous to cut it in advance like I’ve seen people do when what I should have been worried about was not catching the darn things after you snip them.

My first Korean ribbon cutting ceremony! How exciting!

My first Korean ribbon cutting ceremony! How exciting!

I’m the sad chick second from left with the pile of ribbons on the floor. Sigh. No one ever tells me these things. Hmph.

Epic fail.

“Oh sh*t” was the first thought that entered my head. Epic fail.

For the record, I still think it’s a lot cooler to let everything dramatically fall to the floor. Hello. It’s a grand opening. Just kidding.

Artist Talk: Wet Media Conference

In Sogang University’s Department Art and Technology, artists (including yours truly) gave talks on their work. My talk, entitled “Living SciFi: Bio-Art and our Futures” drew on my journey through science, art, and design, ending with the show at the Institute for the Future and what I’ve learned here so far.

It was also great to meet some bio-artists. Personally, I identify more with the terms “conceptual artist” and “sci-art” since I currently work with so many different fields of sciences and haven’t stuck to just one, so it was great to learn from these guys, especially those whose work I’ve heard so much about. Mad props to Anna Dumitriu, Vicky Isley and Paul Smith of boredomresearch, Sonja Baeumel, Roberta Trentin, etc. It was cool to meet you guys!

Workshop: Making Smells of Perfumes

You know I'm in Korea when I'm doing a lecture in my hiking clothes.

You know I’m in Korea when I’m doing a lecture in my hiking clothes.

A week after the opening, I also did a perfumery workshop with some high school and university students in Korea. There was a group of biology students that were accompanied by their teacher. In the beginning, the students participated in my olfactory memory experiment where they were given mystery smells and then were asked to recall the memory that came to mind.

The students did my smell memory experiment where I gave them mystery smells to sniff and asked them to recall the memory that came to mind.

The students did my smell memory experiment where I gave them mystery smells to sniff and asked them to recall the memory that came to mind.

Later, I asked them to do a Smell Walk and gather objects from nature that they want to make a perfume of. We distilled essential oils and also used some from my own collection of essential oils. It was exciting as one distillation flask caught fire (the kids put it out in time and no one was hurt).

The students took a Smell Walk and gathered fragrant objects from nature.

The students took a Smell Walk and gathered fragrant objects from nature.

 

The haul from the Smell Walk

The haul from the Smell Walk

 

Gathering fragrant things in nature

Gathering fragrant things in nature

 

Mashing things up for distillation

Mashing things up for distillation

 

A simple DIY distillation set-up

A simple DIY distillation set-up

 

Whattup, Korea!

Whattup, Korea!

I loved that one of the museum staff participated and insisted on making a banana-flavored perfume. He was a fun student. For the record, I insisted that he tuck his tie so it wouldn’t catch fire.

This museum staff member joined our workshop and he made a banana perfume.

This museum staff member joined our workshop and he made a banana perfume.

After the distillation, I also got them to create perfumes using the commercial essential oils I have in my personal collection.

Day 2: I was back in my apocalypse suit. Ole!

Day 2: I was back in my apocalypse suit. Ole!

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Making perfumes

 

Another experience of making a perfume using commercial essential oils

Another experience of making a perfume using commercial essential oils

I gave them Apocalypse Project Commander badges as a reward for all their hard work. Thanks, guys!

Apocalypse Project Commander badges for everyone! Whee!

Apocalypse Project Commander badges for everyone! Whee!

Aaaannnd that’s officially it for me for 2015. No more exhibitions, talks, workshops, interviews, etc. for the rest of the year. I’ll be in Seoul until November 29th reflecting on the year that was and what to do next. You know I’m not a big fan of this part. A bit of Korean hiking should knock me to my senses. Are you in town? Come join me!

Many thanks to Bio-Art Seoul 2015, Biocon, Seoulin Bioscience Co., and Digital Art Weeks International. Thank you especially to Dr. Sunghoon Kim and Helen Kwak!

 

 

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Digital Art Weeks International, whose exhibition “Hybrid Highlights” was held in Seoul last year, just published their free book, On Science, On Art, On Society: Interviews with Innovators”. Edited by Arthur Clay, Monika Rut, and Timothy J. Senior, it features a collection of twenty-five interviews from practitioners originating in diverse fields and opposing outwardly.

Divided into three separate chapters, the authors illustrate to the reader models of hybridity that can validate convergence as a method for nurturing innovation across disciplines. Readers interested in innovation and the processes that drive it, will find that each of the chapters of the book addresses a particular area of ​​knowledge and that each of the interviews offers its own perspective on the subject at hand as well as examples that could offer theory into practice.

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I was one of the interviewees in this interesting project. I’m in very cool and amazing company and it’s quite intimidating to be with them, such as Denisa Kera, Davide Angheleddu, Ruedi Stoop, etc. Download it here from iTunes now!

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In my interview I talk about artscience collaborations, The Apocalypse Project, and climate change and cultural change. It also featured a photo from Climate Change Couture: Singapore (the Thermoreflector, modeled by Cheryl). Here is the interview, courtesy of DAW International:

Where Art & Science Coexist
An Interview with Catherine Young

Interviews with Innovators: As an artist, your work primarily explores human perception and its relationship to memory, creativity, and play. In a way, your story as an artist begins with studying molecular biology and biotechnology at the University of the Philippines. What inspired you to move into the arts, and what did you take with you from the sciences?

Catherine Young: I come from a family of artists and doctors. Although my grandfather was a photographer, my mom was a genetics professor so I grew up with a lot of Punnett Squares and DNA lessons. I love science and initially wanted to do only lab-based research, but I realized that I didn’t want to be just cooped up in the lab – there were so many other ways I wanted to pursue my ideas. I moved to New York City at 21 and just saw the endless possibilities available instead of the stifling path I had ahead of me. I moved (or more specifically, “ran away”) to Barcelona and rediscovered art, but also discovered for the first time how art and science could work together. From there I chose to study interaction design for my MFA in the US (which was a relatively new field at the time) because I felt it was a discipline where art and science could coex- ist and be effectively communicated to others.

IWI: You have worked in a variety of traditional forms including draw- ing and painting, but also with less-traditional media such as dirt or soil. What role has artistic and scientific practices played in helping you break away from traditional formats?

CY: When two things collide, new relationships can be formed. For exam- ple, visual art is usually composed of traditional fields such as painting or sculpture—works that the public shouldn’t touch else you destroy the work. But this doesn’t hold true with interactive pieces where the work has to be touched to be experienced. The convergence of art and science leads to new ways to offer stories for people to explore, and unique opportunities for empathy. Also, advancements in science along with new ways of expression in art are leading to greater diversity in the type of work that can be done. For instance, there’s been a relatively recent interest in art investigating smell because of research that shows that olfaction is linked to memory. So if I were an artist interested in memory, this sense is now a channel for me to investigate that theme. Science can inform art and vice versa; each enriches the other.

I don’t really look at my projects and say, “Ok, what is the ‘art’ and what is the ‘science’ here?” I start with the questions I want to explore, and then test those approaches that I feel will best communicate the ideas I want to share with people. My different experience of artistic and scien- tific fields has exposed me to a lot of different ways for investigating top- ics and then presenting them to a wider audience. Science for me involves a lot of data collection, something which I often do in my current work. Artistic methods help me explore the many ways in which I can show that work. Each exhibition of a project is also like an experiment to me, so my work continues as I check how people respond to it. Person- ally, I don’t think there’s much of a difference between art and science because both ask similar questions. However, there is a great difference in the professions of art and science because of the systems we have created to practice them, such as the galleries, the festivals, the labs, academia, industry, and so on.

IWI: “Disclosure of knowledge” or “lifting of the veil” is how you describe your Apocalypse Project. Here you are trying to physically animate an in- quiry made concerning environmental futures. Can you tell us about this research in general and what the process was that transformed an en- quiry into an artwork?

CY: I started The Apocalypse Project during my participation at the 2013 ArtScience Residency Program in partnership with ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, Tembusu College National University of Singapore, and the Singapore-ETH Zurich Future Cities Laboratory (FCL). I was talking to the scientists in FCL who were doing very interesting research on climate change and sustainability. But while their work was important, I saw a gap between their research and the public understanding of climate change.

In parallel to this, I was doing workshops with high school and college students in Singapore, asking them questions about what climate change looked like to them, what superpowers they wished they had to combat climate change, and what they would wear to a climate-change apocalypse. The last question resonated really well with the majority of the stu- dents, more so than my other questions. I realized that fashion is one thing that people can relate to – clothing is both a means of survival and a form of self-expression. This was the beginning of Climate Change Couture. I took the research of the FCL scientists and designed clothes and narratives that would fit a world that was uninhabitable, highlighting the problems that the research projects addressed. For the first collection, members of the FCL staff were the ones who modeled them and I think it was wonderful to see them outside the lab and being models.

IWI: Besides showing the actual objects themselves, how else have you tried to communicate the fact that climate change is real and “the heat is on” as they say?

CY: The projects are all about experience, so rather than just showing the clothes or the perfumes I developed, the visitors are invited to try on the clothes and smell the perfumes. In this way, they are able to place themselves in the story. I also hold public events, such as Future Feast at The Mind Museum in Manila where I got to collaborate with chefs to think about dishes of the future. It was a real feast with local musicians per- forming, scientists explaining topics about climate change, the chefs talking to people about why things like worm meat and sea vegetables could be future sources of nutrition, and included activities for the whole family. I think doing these inclusive and fun events reframes climate change from a doom-and-gloom political issue, meant to be discussed only by governments, to a human issue about creativity and resilience that everyone should act on.

IWI: Some of the garments that you have put on exhibition connect traditional design culture with what we might call “a fashion of necessity”. Does the inclusion of traditional elements make the message clearer that climate change and cultural change are synonymous?

CY: I think culture has always had to adapt to the environment. For example, the Barong Tagalog, which is a traditional dress for men in the Philip- pines, was designed to be lightweight because of the country’s tropical climate. I re-imagined it with a hoodie because of the unpredictable weather the country now has. When designing for a particular city, I like to research their traditional garments because the message resonates bet- ter with the audience if the visual imagery is familiar and they can relate to it. A lot of my projects deal with future loss, and so the audience has to imagine a world where some things are not available to satisfy the needs of their traditional practices.

IWI: Which of the methods used to carry over your message have been the most effective in motivating and empowering people to become co- creators of a more tangible future?

CY: I think it’s the fact that I do multiple projects, so I give people different ways to engage with environmental futures. If one doesn’t do it for them, another one might. Each project is also exhibited through multiple platforms and in multiple cities, and uses different types of media. Some people knew about the projects through the Internet, but for most peo- ple the work was more powerful when they saw and experienced them in person. From what I’ve observed, I think the work becomes most effec- tive when people are able to share their experience (and the memories that these projects evoke) with other people. This allows conversation about climate change go beyond the exhibition or the festival and into the people’s normal everyday lives. Another is that I target a wide audience. I’m particularly interested in the reactions of young children, because they have the most honest reactions. They will also bear the worst consequences of climate change, so I think they need to learn about it and how to take care of the environment as soon as possible.

IWI: Knowing that the research you have draw upon is the intellectual property of an institution with clear guidelines on representation, do you feel that there are any dangers of misrepresenting such research if presented through art objects and in a museum context?

CY: Yes, which is why I’m extremely careful about collaborations. There are a lot of conversations in the background, with me talking to my col- laborators (be it scientists, chefs, artists, students, companies, etc.) about what the project is, why I’m doing it, what possibilities could follow once we exhibit the work in public, as well as an opportunity to say no. I send out updates from time to time, and I update all my websites regu- larly so everyone knows what I’m up to. I’ve been on fellowships and grants for a long time, so I’m used to accountability and making sure eve- ryone is on the same page so that we’re all happy. For the information and images I have to send out to the press, or that I publish online, I always make sure everyone involved has reviewed it and has no issues with it. I think life is really short and there is no sense in prolonging suf- fering, so if I or the other person is unhappy, and all possible solutions have been exhausted, I probably will end the collaboration and just change the direction of the project.

That said, though, in my experience, if the finished project is successful – and I define “success” here as when a project gains an audience, when the message about climate change is effectively transmitted to another person, and when the collaboration was pleasant and we want to do it again – everybody wins: the artist, the collaborator, the space it was exhibited in, the audience who has had a positive experience. If the project fails at any point, such as if a blogger completely misinterprets it, it’s only me that has to bear it, and I try to rectify it by reaching out to the writer with more information and an invitation to get in touch. Either the writer updates his article or I’ll be working on another project to further make the point. The public events are, to me, critical, because I usually have attendants (I call them The Apocalypse Squad) who are trained to talk about the project and assist the audience if needed. The online presence of the projects is also important because that’s where I put all the information. I’ll get the occasional troll in the exhibition or on the Internet – usually climate change deniers – but I just ignore them.

Catherine Young is an artist, scientist, designer, explorer, and writer whose work primarily explores human perception and its relationships to memory, creativity, and play. Her work combines art and science to create stories, objects, and experiences that facilitate wonder and human connection. Her first solo exhibition was in a science museum. She re- ceived her degree in molecular biology and biotechnology from Manila, fine art education from Barcelona, and has an MFA in Interaction Design from the School of Visual Arts in New York as a Fulbright scholar. Previously, she was on residencies and fellowships in New York, Barcelona, Seoul, Singapore, and Manila.

I was dressed for sailing. At least, that’s what I thought I was going to do when I jumped in the car with some friends early this Sunday morning on the way to the Manila Boat Club in Sta. Ana, Manila. “Boat” has a lot of variations, similar to “house” or “garden”. But it turns out we were going to be rowing. With oars. As a team. Oh dear.

It was a fascinating history lesson as I walked up to the second floor of the old building that served as the club’s headquarters. The organization started in 1895 and is the oldest club in Manila.

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Manila Boat Club

Though I was not dressed for the occasion, we only live once and so I got in. With my feet strapped to the boat, I held oars for the first time. In front of me was the president of the club, James, who regularly came to row. I had to follow his rhythm, which was a challenge since I barely knew what I was doing. It was quite mortifying to be clumsy at my first strokes, and I kept bumping my oars with his and my friend’s behind me.

The dock

The dock

With the coxswain (This is the first time I’ve ever had to use this word!) expertly and patiently guiding us, we rowed along the newly rehabilitated Pasig River, which is now a far cry from the toxic dump it used to be. As I learned how to row, I couldn’t help but remember my cybernetics studies in grad school, whose root word means “to steer”. One wrong move from anyone and the boat changed its intended course or we slowed down. The coxswain gave us corrections to set us back on the path. This is such a great metaphor for every project and exhibition I have ever been on.

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It was a beautiful Sunday morning.

The boat didn’t capsize. All in all, it was a win of a Sunday morning.

Thanks, Manila Boat Club! Check out their site here.

It was fun talking about The Apocalypse Project, specifically Climate Change Couture, at Stage the Future 2: The 2nd International Conference on Science Fiction Theater. I couldn’t physically be there (boo), but I Skyped from Manila, waking up at 5 in the morning. It was a miracle I woke up at all, and even more miraculous that my wifi connection held up.

My view from a few thousand miles

My view from a few thousand miles

Many thanks, Chris Callow, Boyd Branch, Erika Hughes, and the rest of the conference organizers! Check out the conference site and their Twitter feed—I think it’s really great to have cool gatherings like this!

Ok, now I’m going back to bed.

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October 2014, Seoul—The Apocalypse Project’s Climate Change Couture is now on view at Seoul National University Museum of Art. My piece is on the second floor and features six garments from Climate Change Couture’s Singapore, Manila, and Seoul collections, as well as six photos from the Singapore collection.

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Curated by Arthur Clay, founder and artistic director of Digital Art Weeks International, and Jeungmin Noe, senior curator at Seoul National University Museum of Art, the exhibition blurs the boundaries between art and science and enlarges the possibilities of interdisciplinary collaborations.

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The exhibition runs until December.

Many thanks to Digital Art Weeks and SNU MoA

 

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Here are some photos from The Ephemeral Marvels Perfume Store’s exhibit at the Open City / Art City Festival last October 4, co-organized the Institute for the Future and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Many thanks and huge congratulations to my friend Zoe Bezpalko (who also modeled one of the Climate Change Couture garments last year and is shown in the above photo wearing an Apocalypse Suit), for handling this single-handedly.

I’m here in Seoul for the moment for some exhibitions and a panel, so I’m very grateful for my friends and collaborators from all over the world who can take over when I cannot physically be there.

Photos courtesy of Zoe Bezpalko

The past year or so has seen me venturing into the mysterious field of “speculative design.” In The Apocalypse Project, I’m trying to see possible futures under climate change, which are generally not pretty visions of tomorrow.

There are lessons I’ve learned as well as experiences whose lessons I’m still trying to find. Here they are:

1. Stories rule.

When it comes to something as dry and political as climate change, the best way to get people to care is to let them find a personal story. Climate change is humanity’s story, not just a few individuals’. It is also complex and multilayered; a photo of a melting glacier might trigger the emotions of people living near them, but it might not be as effective to a person who has never experienced a winter. Here in Southeast Asia, I notice that people paid more attention to stories about rising sea levels, extreme heat or supertyphoons, because those are the things that they have personally experienced and have something to say about.

However, this isn’t to say that people in the tropics will never care about polar bears. I think that another property about the climate story is that so many things are connected—a melting glacier may further alarm people who are experiencing drought, for example—and there are opportunities to connect these dots that people never realized existed.

2.  The power belongs to the people.

When people want to buy these hypothetical products, I’m taken aback and get a conscience attack of sorts. My goal was to show people how bad it could get, but instead people’s consumerist tendencies prevailed.

But then, why wouldn’t they want to buy these? I had made them so real that they only thing that was missing was a PayPal button.

I realized the power of people as consumers; the exchange of money for product allows for the existence of these objects. These transactions keep these products—and the ideas behind them—alive. If people refuse to buy the product, then it marks the end of it.

What does this mean for futures? For me, it gives me a barometer to see what types of people are out there. I’ve realized that the point of speculative design is to ignite debate. By making these projects, people have the opportunity to talk about these issues. There are so many opinions out there that

Should I sell these? This is something I keep thinking about. Perhaps letting people buy them allows for even greater awareness, as long as they know the intentions behind it. Let me get back to you.

3. The true test is converting a denier.

The bulk of the people who have emailed me or tweeted about how the like the project are usually futurists, artists, or other people who are already aware of climate change to begin with. While I’m extremely grateful for this, especially for the future collaborations that it could ensue, to put it bluntly these people are already smarties. The next cohort of people that I’ve impacted are the “laymen”—those whose work has nothing to do with design or sustainability, but are folks who can see their personal stories in these projects. I think this is wonderful because I’ve always wanted my designs to exist beyond, well, design. Children have always been among my primary—and usually the sharpest—audience and I usually prototype my ideas on them to see if I’m being too unnecessarily confusing.

Perhaps the pinnacle of “success” in doing projects like this is when I am able to convert a climate change denier. This is the final cohort of people who are going to be the hardest to convert but are those who will give me the greatest pleasure to impact. When the initial wave of press for my projects hit, I get trolling tweets from climate change deniers literally seconds later. It’s usually how I know that my projects are being written about. I would often joke to my friends about how they’re usually just a bunch of old white guys, usually in the US, who’ve never experienced the scale of a tropical typhoon and probably don’t get out much anyhow so who cares. I never engage in them, but the more I think about it, these are the ones that, if converted, means that I was extremely effective in conveying ideas.

But I just think they’re so gross. What to do, hmm. Any ideas?

4. Everyone can contribute to this.

In Future Feast, I got a bit floored towards the end because I truly felt that it was transformative for a lot of people. Having multiple talents together—musicians, artists, designers, scientists, etc.—can feel like high school because they have very different personalities, and I as the one behind this was a bit anxious that the dots wouldn’t connect because everyone had their own vested interest in the project. However, I realized that it was in this multilayered experience that gave people a meaningful experience. In the end, it was great to feel that it wasn’t just my project anymore—it was everyone’s, which was the point.

I’m still evaluating the impact of the work I’ve done in the past few months. Stay tuned here for updates on what’s next, and thanks so much for keeping up with the projects!